The Lily Cafe is thrilled to present author J.J. Hernandez and and excerpt of his crime thriller The Broken!
Title: The Broken
Author: J.J. Hernandez
Publisher: Moon Reign Publications
Publication date: May 18, 2021
Genre: Crime Thriller
Just released from prison, Julian Serrano is determined to get his life back by reconnecting with his son, maintaining a legit job, and steering clear of the life of crime that led him to prison in the first place. All while under the watchful eye of his parole officer, Diana Rivera. But while Julian fights to stay out of the life that cost him everything he loved, Diana struggles with her own heartache and loss. Thrust back in the life when things don’t go as planned, Julian must decide who to trust and what plays to make. All while trying to keep Diana believing he’s staying on the straight and narrow. In an untangling web of betrayal, lies, and old debts come due, Julian and Diana must come together to save each other from the ghosts of their pasts.
The car was a 2004 Honda Accord, gun-metal gray, nondescript, and inconspicuous. It’d had three previous owners and was stolen off a used car lot in Union City, New Jersey, two nights ago.
Now, two rivers to the east, the car traveled west on Ditmas Avenue beneath an unusually bright crescent-shaped moon. The night sky brought little reprieve from the late summer heatwave, going on its second straight week of no rain and 100-degree days. From the passenger seat, Julian Serrano surveyed the scene. Despite it still being early in the evening the streets were empty.The suffocating heat pushing everyone to seek air-conditioned refuge indoors.
“I’m going to take Ninety-Second,” said Angel Guerra. His right hand gripped the steering wheel firmly. He held the e-cigarette close to his mouth, nervously inhaling every few seconds.
“Why?” said Julian. “Just stay on Ditmas till Remsen.”
“If we take Ninety-Second, we can cut up Bedell, and park on the backside. Whoever’s with Hector won’t expect it.”
“There’s no point.” Julian kept his gaze on the scene outside his window, and although he was annoyed, he kept his voice low and even. “They’re expecting us, remember? We don’t know how many have shown up and there might be people watching the back. If we park on the backside, they’re going to figure something is up.”
“Damn, you’re right,” said Angel. He closed his grip on his ecigarette, holding it tight in a closed fist and close to his temple as if preparing to make a phone call. “I didn’t really think it through.”
In the backseat, James “Jimmy” O’Donnell sat quietly. Julian could hear him typing on his cellphone and figured he was sending text messages to a few different ladies. Julian knew Jimmy didn’t care for any one of them, but he certainly enjoyed all the attention the ladies threw at him.
The Honda passed through an intersection as it continued traveling west on Ditmas Avenue. Julian looked down at the floorboard. He noticed the car’s momentum had caused his shotgun to slip slightly off the duffel bag it lay on. Julian didn’t much like using a shotgun. They were too loud, too messy, and too hard to conceal.
Julian preferred his .38 sub nosed revolver. Expended rounds didn’t automatically eject from revolvers, so he didn’t have to worry about police finding his fingerprints or DNA on empty shells. It only held five rounds, not a lot but more than enough if you were an accurate and discerning shot. But the shotgun was an attention grabber, and for what they planned, they needed to have everyone’s attention.
Angel turned the Honda onto Remsen Avenue.
“There,” said Julian. “The tire shop.”
“I don’t see nobody,” said Angel.
“Pull over here,” said Julian.
Angel stopped the car a block away from the tire shop. They waited and watched. Julian scanned the terrain for several minutes, looking for anything out of the ordinary. It had been a while since he was last inside the tire shop. A+ Tire Shop was a small single-story, twenty-five-year-old building. It contained a small one-room office that served as the business’ reception area.
The rest of the building consisted of a two-car garage for installing and repairing tires. It was surrounded by an eight-foot chain-link fence that was topped with barbed wire. Pressed against the fence, as if being displayed in an art exhibit, was a mosaic of used tires. Seven cars in various stages of disrepair were parked on the sidewalk along the outside of the fence.
“Alright, go ahead, and park on the corner,” said Julian.
Angel parked the Honda on the northwest corner of Remsen Avenue and Foster Avenue and turned off the engine. From where they were parked, they had a clear view inside the fence. Angel took a drag from his e-cigarette as he leaned forward and eyed the space inside the tire shop’s fence.
“There’s Hector’s Cutty,” said Angel, noticing the black 1978 Oldsmobile Cutlass parked alongside the building.
Julian nodded. “He’s already inside.”
“Let’s get it,” said Jimmy from the backseat.
“Give it a few minutes,” said Julian.
He reached down and grabbed the shotgun. Julian double-checked the small nylon bag covering the shotgun’s ejection port.
He had taped it there to catch any empty shells that were ejected from the shotgun. When Julian was confident the bag was secure, he pumped a shell into the breech and placed it back on the floorboard.
Julian grabbed the duffel bag and lifted it onto his lap. He unzipped the bag and eyed its contents. Six separate bundles of newspaper cut into shapes of US currency neatly held together with a rubber band lay neatly in the bag. Each stack was topped with a one-hundred-dollar bill. On top lay a snub-nosed Smith & Wesson 640 revolver.
Julian looked back at Jimmy and passed him the revolver. Jimmy grabbed the gun and eyed it contemptuously. Julian knew he hated revolvers. When it came time to put in work, Jimmy was big on speed, efficiency, and looking good. And for Jimmy, the revolver didn’t carry enough rounds, it took too long to reload, and worst of all, it looked like shit.
Julian put the shotgun inside the duffel bag and zipped it shut. He quietly took several deep breaths as he scanned the scene outside their car one last time.
“Alright, let’s go.”
It got hot inside the Dodge Magnum a lot faster than Sgt. Frank Hawkins thought it would. He had turned off the engine and the air conditioning in the Magnum as soon as the sun had set an hour ago. The tire shop was located on a street with a lot of commercial businesses. So, cars parked along the roadway with engines running after business hours attracted unwanted attention. And attention was the last thing Frank wanted whenever he conducted surveillance.
Now, whoever was in the beat-up Honda was just sitting there and Frank was growing frustrated. He felt the sweat underneath his shirt and was tempted to turn the car back on. Frank eyed the keys dangling from the ignition and decided against it. He didn’t want to ruin a good case over a sweaty shirt.
“Looks like they’re finally getting out,” said Katalina “Kat” Esposito from the front passenger seat.
Frank could smell the stale coffee on Kat’s breath and imagined she could taste it on her tongue. Kat had transferred into his Narcotics unit three months ago and she seemed to be getting comfortable around him. But Frank didn’t think Kat was so comfortable that she wasn’t self-conscious about the smells emitting from her body.
They had been working nonstop over the past twenty-four hours to put the operation together, ever since he got word of the deal from one of his confidential informants. Now, as they approached the fourth hour of surveillance, he was getting tired and figured she was exhausted.
“The one getting out of the passenger seat is carrying a duffel bag,” said Frank.
Hector Franco hated to wait. His dyslexia made reading difficult, so he didn’t like to read. And having ADHD made watching television for more than a few minutes at a time unbearable. So, outside of using it for background noise, he didn’t watch television. He was limited in the things he could do to keep himself occupied so he was relieved when Isaac’s guy showed up. At least now he had someone to speak with to pass the time.
Hector eyed the driver curiously. He’d introduced himself as Ben and wore a dark blue short-sleeve Polo shirt that was tucked into a pair of faded blue jeans. He was slight of build and his blond hair was cut short. Besides the faded scar on his forehead and the small Hanzi tattoo on the inside of his right wrist, he was plain and unassuming, which Hector figured was exactly the point.
“Do you ever get nervous?” said Hector.
He was leaning on the office’s reception counter directly across from the desk where Ben was sitting. Ben held a twelve-ounce bottle of Corona in his right hand, and his left hand lay on top of a purple and yellow Los Angeles Lakers gym bag. Earlier, Hector had watched him remove the bag, which apparently contained three kilos of uncut cocaine, from the left rear wheel well of a white Nissan Altima.
“Nah,” said Ben.
“Man, I don’t believe that shit,” Hector said mockingly. “You’re driving across the country with your ride full of uncut white and you saying you don’t get nervous?”
“I’ve been doing this for a while now. And one thing I’ve learned is cops are too arrogant for their own good. They think they have it down, but the problem with that is I know what they know. All the cops go to the same schools to learn the same shit from a bunch of ex-cops. The people who put on those schools are so desperate to make some cash they don’t screen anyone, so I go to as many as I can.”
Hector smiled at what he was hearing. “So, you’re just sitting there with them? Chit chatting and shit.”
“Yup. The cops spend their breaks eating bad food and telling stories, trying to impress each other,” said Ben. He took a long drink from the Corona. “I just hold up a wall and listen. They talk about what gets their attention. Technically, it’s illegal to profile people. But they do it anyway, except they try to sell it as profiling vehicles and driving patterns, not the drivers themselves.”
Hector watched Ben move the bag from on top of the desk to the floor, by his feet. From Hector’s angle, he could no longer see the bag.
“I don’t get nervous because I know what they’re looking for and they’re not looking for someone who looks like me,” said Ben.
Hector imagined himself sitting in a classroom surrounded by cops and he almost laughed out loud. The thought of sitting in a room with a bunch of fat cops, all of them too stupid to realize they were sitting within arm’s reach of the very person they were learning to catch, was pure comedy.
Hector was just about to ask some follow-up questions when he received the text message from Julian letting him know they were outside.
Kat watched as the three men entered the tire shop. She noticed Frank grabbed the vehicle’s radio and keyed up to speak.
“Subjects just entered the tire shop. We’ll start our approach after I get word from the CI the deal was made. We’ll take them as soon as they exit the building. Don’t let them get in the car. The last thing we need is a pursuit,” said Frank into the mic.
Frank was repeating information he’d gone over during the mission briefing they had earlier in the day. It bothered Kat to hear it again and she imagined it pissed off the rest of the team as well. Most of them had been doing this a while and probably didn’t feel like they needed to be reminded of the obvious.
Kat was pretty sure Frank knew it too, but he just didn’t care. He was an old school, hard-nosed cop and believed in being thorough. Frank had been on the job for over fifteen years and been on hundreds of high-risk operations. There wasn’t anything anyone could say or do that was going to make him change how he did things.
“I bet they’re loving you right now,” said Kat.
“I really don’t give a shit,” said Frank.
Kat looked over at Frank and noticed he was incessantly tapping his right foot on the vehicle floor. Even after three months, she was still trying to get used to Frank’s idiosyncrasies. She knew Frank was already a bit hyper-aggressive.
But he got really worked up the closer they got to an operation. She noticed as they got closer to any sort of action, Frank’s nervous energy would manifest itself through some sort of body tick. He’d tap his foot or crack the knuckles on his hands, which drove her particularly mad.
“Here, chew this.” She passed him a stick of gum.
Frank took the stick of gum and smiled. “I guess we’ve moved past the honeymoon period.” He cupped his hand over his mouth and smelled his own breath. “Do I offend? You know, all that coffee you’ve been drinking isn’t doing me any favors either, don’t ya?”
“I figured maybe we’d try chewing gum and give the foot-tapping a rest for a while.”
Frank looked down at his leg. “That bad huh?”
“After three months? Yeah, it’s pretty bad.”
Jimmy walked in first, pushing past Hector as he held the door open for the three men with neither a look nor word of acknowledgment. Julian figured Jimmy, who at a shade over six feet stood about six inches taller than Hector, either didn’t see Hector or didn’t feel he deserved any acknowledgment. Julian was willing to bet it was the latter.
Angel and Julian followed behind Jimmy, each greeting Hector with an elaborate handshake-hug combination. It had been a while since Julian had last been in the tire shop. He looked around and noticed that, except for the additions of a worn-out dark-brown leather couch and a white mini-refrigerator, nothing had changed.
The walls of the small office were still the same shade of light green, only dirtier and slightly faded. He thought the worn brown carpet that covered the floor was the same. The familiar smells of new rubber and old engine oil filled his nostrils, and the combination still nauseated him.
Julian spotted the driver sitting at the desk. “What’s up, bro?” said Julian. He walked to the desk as Angel took up a spot behind the office’s reception counter.
“How are you guys doing?” said the driver.
He stood up and greeted Julian with the obligatory shake-hug combination and introduced himself as Ben. They each took a seat on either side of the desk and Julian placed the duffel bag on the floor, by his feet.
“You guys want something to drink?” said Hector. He was still standing by the door, “I got Stellas and Coronas in the fridge.”
“Nah, we’re good,” said Julian. “We have to be somewhere in an hour. Just need the white and we’re out.”
“Works for me,” said Ben. He looked around the room and had a pleasant smile on his face. The smile left his face when he spotted Jimmy standing against the wall staring a hole through him with big, black empty eyes. “I’d like to get back on the road as soon as possible. Have a long trip ahead of me.”
“Did you bring what we ordered?” said Julian.
“Course he brought it, Julian,” said Hector. He had moved away from the door and was now sitting on the couch. “Why the fuck else would he be here?”
“Chill, Hector,” said Julian. He looked at Hector and motioned with his left hand, signaling Hector to calm down. “I don’t see a bag or nothing so, I’m just asking.”
“Isaac sent what you asked for, son,” said Hector. He leaned forward on the couch. “I seen him pull the shit out the car myself.”
“Then where is it?” said Jimmy. He was standing to the left of the couch where Hector sat. His voice was low and intense.
Julian heard Jimmy’s tone and he felt the air in the room grow dense with tension.
“Alright, listen. Everybody, just chill,” said Julian. He looked at everyone in the room but held Jimmy’s eyes a few seconds longer. His voice was even and calm. “It’s a simple transaction. I have the cash right here in this bag. Show me what you’ve brought, you count the loot, and everyone will be on their way.”
“Listen, man, that works for me,” said Ben. Julian noticed he was sitting straight up in his chair. “I just deliver what they give me to deliver and pick up what I’m told to pick up. It’s right here under the table. I’m going to grab it so, everyone, chill out, alright?”
Ben looked at Julian and waited for some sort of signal it was safe for him to grab the bag. Julian nodded at him, so he reached down and pulled a purple and yellow Los Angeles Lakers gym bag from underneath the desk. He placed the gym bag on top of the desk and leaned back in his chair.
“There,” said Ben. He pointed at the bag “That’s what I brought.”
Julian pulled the bag close to him, unzipped it, and eyed its contents. The three square-shaped packages were completely covered with gray duct tape. Julian was confident each duct-taped covered package concealed 2.2 pounds of tightly packed, Saran-wrapped cocaine. Isaac’s product was as pure as it came, so pure it could be stepped on three times and still be a sought-after party favor.
He used a small pocketknife he carried on his key chain to poke a hole in one of the packages. When he removed the knife’s blade from the hole, white powdery trickles, like sand, fell onto the package. Julian touched the powder that lay on the package with his right index finger and rubbed it between his thumb and index finger.
“Looks good,” said Julian. He reached down and lifted the duffel bag that lay at his feet onto the desk. He stood up, unzipped the duffel bag, and removed the shotgun from the bag. He pointed the shotgun at Ben. “There’s been a slight alteration to the deal.”
Even though it was on silent mode, Kat heard when Frank’s cell-phone vibrated, alerting him of an incoming text message. She watched him remove his phone from the front breast pocket of his shirt and read the message.
“What?” said Kat.
Frank ignored her question. He picked up the radio and keyed the mic. “It’s turned into an armed robbery. We’re going to have to make entry. Go, go, go.”
“Julian, man, what the fuck?” said Hector.
Julian kept his focus on Ben, but he could see Hector in his peripheral vision. Hector started to raise himself off the couch when Jimmy hit him in the nose with the butt of the gun he now held in his right hand. Julian heard the crunching of cartilage and blood exploded from Hector’s nose. He brought his hands up to his face and collapsed back onto the couch.
Julian remained focused on Ben who he thought, despite having a shotgun pointed at his face, seemed strangely calm. He noticed that Angel, now holding his gun in his right hand, had moved from behind the reception counter and was standing behind Ben.
“What happens now?” said Ben.
“Now,” said Julian. He lowered the shotgun but continued to hold it in his right hand. Julian removed the three packages from the Lakers bag and placed them in his duffel bag. “We’re going to take what you brought, and what we brought, and we’re going to leave.”
“What about me?” said Ben.
“After we leave here,” said Julian. He zipped up the duffel bag, “I don’t care what you do.”
“How do you think this is going to play with Isaac?” said Ben.
“To tell you the truth, I’m not worried at all about Isaac.” Julian lifted the bag off the table. “He’s just coming up, but so are we. Now, it’s just a question of who gets to the top first.”
Julian heard two loud bangs on the front door of the office in quick succession. He looked at the front door and saw it fly open. He noticed a glove-covered hand cross the door’s threshold and toss something inside the office.
“Fuck,” said Julian.
The bright white light from the small explosion left him momentarily blinded. Although his ears were ringing from the loud noise, he could hear someone yelling commands for them to get down and drop their weapons. As Julian’s vision began to clear and he could make out the cops entering the office from the badges around their necks and “NYPD” printed on their body armor, he knew he had to decide.
Laila and Tito.
Julian put his shotgun and duffel bag down and lay face down on the floor. He thought about Jimmy and Angel and wondered what they would decide.
Julian closed his eyes and waited for the sound of gunshots.
They never came.
About J.J Hernandez:
J.J. Hernandez was born in Brooklyn, New York and raised in Brooklyn and Miami, Florida. He is a graduate of Sam Houston State University and has been a law enforcement officer in Central Texas for twenty years. He lives in Austin, Texas with his wife and two daughters. This is his first novel.
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Thank you so much, J.J!
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